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280620XX, 1400 Hours
North Darfur Province, Sudan
"An American activist, Medgar Evers, once said 'You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea'. That is a challenge, not a fact"
Sylla quietly sits in the back seat of the armored SUV, sipping on a bottle of cinnamon tea and listening to his nine-tailed superior's lecture. Escort work is typically quite boring, and this is no exception. The soldier beside him has dozed off with its pack between his hands, and Indigo does not appear interested in waking it up. Apparently she regards this lecture as merely entertainment rather than business, as the topic is more ideological than practical.
Behind them are several more military vehicles, both off-the-shelf and improvised, and behind those are several buses full of aid workers, confused at being escorted by a seemingly rag-tag PMC outfit rather than an established military, though the more experienced workers are instead being confused at there being any protection at all, despite the lack of payment. Though if they knew of Clear Sky's modus operandi it would have been obvious: they were workers who worked for free.
Two more technicals, a BMP and several trucks make up the rear end of the convoy. One of the trucks contain a drone control center, where two operators armed with several liters of coffee keep an eye on the terrain up to two kilometers away from the convoy. A single AAA gun or cannon could wreak havoc on the column, especially the less than well armored buses.
"An idea is something intangible, yes, but intangible does not mean invincible. Ideas cannot be stomped out through fire and bullets, no. To kill an idea, you must devalue it, remove its appeal and goodness. The superpowers, in the past, have clumsily lashed out at the most visible elements of an idea: the radicals, the terrorists, the foot troops. All they do is burn out the top of a field, leaving the roots behind so the weeds just grow back up. To kill an idea, you must dig out the roots, you must remove the demagogues, the ideologues, the imams, the leaders. And you must kill not just their body, but their spirit as well. Silencing them via blackmail is effective, and a destruction of their reputation would remove them from the picture without ever creating a martyr. So when the people look back on a dead idea, they see only a terrible concept supported mainly by thieves, murderers, and rapists."
"That does not seem very...ethical, Miss Indigo." Sylla cautiously replies, "That is manipulating a population to suit one's ends."
"Oh no, Director, we don't manipulate a population. We BUY a population. As you saw, we are builders as well as soldiers. We offer them infrastructure, jobs, trade, and anything else they need to build a prosperous society. In exchange, we simply ask that they change their ideas to suit our needs. Their schools, religion, and even celebrations must conform to what we approve of. No more children raised to hate the other tribe, no more stoning of people who are different, and no more...Ahmed, take a left here...no more idiotic traditions and social structures that discriminate...Ahmed, see that ridge in the distance? Drive towards that...It is quite astonishing how in this part of the world humans have managed to remain the same from since I was born."
The Kenyan Army lieutenant takes a look out the back window, and notices that the convoy is heading in the opposite direction of their SUV.
"If I may interject, Miss Indigo, where are we heading?"
"I told you already, Director, we are doing routine asset procurement."
"But the convoy..."
"WE are doing asset procurement; the others are just providing complimentary services for the Red Cross."
The sleeping soldier beside Sylla yawns, revealing a set of sharp teeth. He (or she, Sylla cannot tell with the helmet and ski mask the soldier has on) glances around, and goes back to slumbering.
"If my GPS coordinates are correct...ah...stop the car, we're here."
Sylla really wishes his boss, who is apparently some sort of fox-based monster from a mystical land, would at least tell him what's going on. But judging by her apparent age as implied through her comments, she probably thinks it's more entertaining to keep non mission-critical information obscure.
They dutifully get out of the SUV, with a little bit of prodding with the sleeping soldier, whose grumbling voice tells Sylla that it is probably female, though probably not human.
Indigo flips open the trunk, revealing a assortment of weaponry and ammunition. She picks up a Kord heavy machine gun with one hand and a heavy looking backpack with the other, before handing it off to the female soldier, who grumbles a bit more in her foreign language as she straps on the pack and removes the end of an ammo belt from it to load the weapon normally served by a human crew. Indigo then picks up a SV-98 sniper rifle and hands it along with a bandoleer containing five magazines to Sylla, who incredulously examines the weapon.
"Uh, Miss Indigo, are you expecting me to use this? I may be a decent shot, but I have never undergone sniper training before."
"Well now you will. Don't worry, Ahmed will help you. He'll be your spotter." She replies as she hands Ahmed a device that looks like a laser designator, except smoother and with a futuristic looking LED screen on. Now that Sylla had gotten a better look at his rifle, he notices that its scope is much larger than what he would expect.
"Oh, and these, put these on." She pulls out two gold colored cloaks. Upon donning the garment, Sylla sees that the fabric flickers, before apparently turning invisible, along with the rest of his body. Looking at Ahmed, he sees just the face of the Arabic man grinning at him, suspended in thin air.
"Camouflage cloaks, you're going to need them. The gun's also been enchanted similarly to what I did to your old one back in the village, so I doubt they could find you unless you shout. Welcome to the future, Director Sylla."
Out of the things he's seen today, a camouflage cloak is probably one of the less surprising ones, given that it is not exactly an unheard of technology. "Miss Indigo, just who are 'they', this time?"
"We're hitting a arms dealer convoy rendezvousing with its janjaweed contacts." She smiles wide at the growing look of exasperation on the man's face, "According to my sources, they are carrying a large shipment of small arms and ammunition, as well as a couple armored vehicles. Now get moving, see that ridge over there? Set up right on it, and KEEP YOUR CLOAKS ON!"
"Yes Miss Indigo." Having seen her capabilities, Sylla is not exactly willing to disobey an order, even if he has his reservations about the legality of the operation.
"So Ahmed, where are you from?" Sylla asks quietly, not keeping his eyes off of the scope. So far, there has been no motion on the road he and his partner are overlooking, and Indigo has remained silent on the radio.
"Iraqi army, I was a lieutenant, like you." Ahmed replies, his voice muffled by the chewing gum in his mouth. "Clear Sky picked me up after I deserted during the Daesh conflict. Apparently they found my driving skills to be exceptional, or at least that's what they told me."
"That was quite a while ago."
"Aye, back then we weren't this large. It was just Indigo and a handful of people under her direct command. I was her personal driver, and basically did nothing but that. Well, and shooting when it was needed. And paperwork, but that's a given. Of course, this is just the Middle East subdivision, the main company based in Asia is much larger. Indigo is just the Chief Operations Officer; CEO Violetta is the one in charge of the entirety of Clear Sky International."
"Yes, I read the memos too, Ahmed." Sylla sighs and decides to ask something he had not had the chance to, "How old is Miss Indigo anyway? Or the one called Faceless?"
"I dunno about Faceless, but Indigo is about a thousand."
Sylla raises an eyebrow, "A thousand? Years?"
"Aye, she does not look like it, eh?" Ahmed chuckles under his scarf, "She's a Japanese monster, or what they call a youkai, of the kitsune variety, which is some sort of fox spirit. She never told me anything beyond that information though."
"Then why is she out here running a private military company?" Sylla thinks it's incredulous that such an entity would stoop to such mortal affairs, "Shouldn't she be in heaven or whatever they ascend to?"
Ahmed spits out the now-flavorless gum, "My opinion? It's because whatever she desires, she's not in charge. Violetta is, and that woman is something else entirely."
"CEO Cirri Violetta...what do you know about her?"
The Iraqi deserter bites his lip. "There's this American writer, H.P. Lovecraft. Perhaps you've read his work?"
Sylla shakes his head, "I was never very fond of Western literature."
"Then it is rather hard to describe. Miss Indigo is clearly a fox spirit, but Miss Violetta is...well... let's just say that she's not the same breed as Indigo and Faceless. In fact, she could be an alien for all we know!" Ahmed chuckles, "The only thing I know for sure is that she is at least as old as Miss Indigo. Her capabilities...let's just say that it's the only reason this company can exist."
"Eh?" Sylla perks his ears.
"You must be wondering why Miss Indigo ordered the construction of a train station near the camp. If you had looked at the plans you would have noticed that it is an absurd design, with rails ending at solid walls and the windows tinted to obscure viewing from outside."
"I had, but I thought it out of my place to inquire. Perhaps she knew of a yet-undisclosed Chinese railway project?"
"It's much simpler than that. You see, Clear Sky International makes most of its profit, about 95 percent of its revenue, out of trade in goods such as metal, lumber, food, and many other items which require hauling and a fairly substantial transport times. The reason it is able to sustain an entire paramilitary company and this unprecedented development project is because they can do the job in mere hours and at essentially no cost."
"What?" Sylla incredulously asks, "How?"
"It's what Miss Violetta does. Apparently she her capabilities include a sort of portalling magick, which essentially allows her to produce tears in the fabric of reality. With the proper evocations and rituals, she, as well as Miss Indigo, can produce large, stable tears that could be sustained a single portable generator. These tears lead to a different dimension, one that only Violetta could access. It apparently contains hundreds of trains, trains that according to their identification numbers have long since been decommissioned or destroyed. These trains emerge at her behest, or when an authorized person performs the proper evocation. They are then loaded up with cargo and sent back into the tear, where they can be called up at any other tear anywhere in the world. Most of the time spent is in loading."
"That's...That means that, if they wish..."
"If we wish." Ahmed corrects him, "I hate to sound like Miss Indigo here, but you are part of our company now."
"That means that if WE wish, we can take over the entire world's transportation industry!" In Kenya alone the industry was worth billions in worth. Even if the method is improper for transporting of humans, the movement of goods alone could be generating profits in the trillions of American dollars. Sylla shivers at the thought at being a part of something so large.
Who knows what these magical beings could do?
"We are, as a matter of fact, slowing taking over the marketplace. Mostly we've been buying up smaller companies and keeping their storefronts, charging unwitting clients the price for air or water transport even as the goods emerge at the destination before they even sign the forms." Ahmed's smile is beginning to look downright smug, "Profits aren't quite at the level of companies like Sinopec yet, but it's getting there, and soon we might just be the wealthiest country in the world."
"Company, you meant company."
"Nay, I mean country. What do you think Clear Sky is going to do with these outposts they established? The camps they saved? The towns and villages they liberated? Turn them over to the government? Ha!"
Sylla is surprised by Ahmed's sudden malicious laugh. "Well, what else?"
"You don't get it, do you Sylla? When Miss Indigo confessed to you that she wished to make the world a better place, she meant MAKING the world---"
The sound of the radio buzzing cuts him off, "Target is approaching ambush zone. Primary target is the arms dealer, he will be dressed in a black jacket and tie. Secondary target is the enemy commander, who will be the one talking to the dealer. After that engage any armed target, DO NOT shoot anybody without a gun, even if they are escaping."
Except for the dealer Sylla thinks as he scans the area, watching the two lines of vehicles converge in front of what appears to be an abandoned gas station. One of the convoys is made of camouflaged trucks tailed by an armored personnel carrier, while the other appears to be entirely unmarked civilian trucks.
"They'll never see us coming." Ahmed mutters, "Oh, and Sylla, the marked targets would be highlighted on your scope, just so you know."
"I read the note on it." He mutters back as he turns the smaller calibration knob, judging based on the range displayed on the LED overlay. Six hundred meters out, a great distance relative to what he has been used to shooting at, although the generous amount of data the advanced scope is feeding him helps offset it slightly.
The two convoys stop. The car in the front of the military convoy opens its doors, and an officer steps out with a briefcase. With the scope Sylla could see that he is not janjaweed, but a Sudanese army major. A pale-skinned Westerner emerges from the lead truck of the opposing convoy, dressed in an expensive looking suit and tie, an odd choice of clothing given the environment. Some more soldiers emerge from the camouflaged trucks, and Western mercenaries emerge in turn.
"Waiting on you Sylla. Target the arms dealer in the suit." Indigo whispers over the radio.
A red targeting circle appears on the overlay over the Westerner in the suit. Sylla carefully adjusts the rifle until the reticle overlaps the figure's head, at which point the circle turns green, indicating a theoretical hit. However, the arms dealer is moving constantly and randomly as he talks with the army major, making him quite difficult to hit.
"Negative, target in motion. Waiting until he stands still for something."
They seem to reach a consensus, and the major opens the briefcase, causing the arms dealer to stop for a moment as he stares at its contents. Sylla immediately takes advantage of this moment of stillness and lines up a shot.
He exhales, and pulls the trigger.
Half a second later, the arms dealer's head snaps back as the top of his skull splits wide open, spewing out blood and brain matter as a pink mist.
"Enemy neutralized. Target the major."
The soldiers and mercenaries are far more experienced than the janjaweed militants, and almost instantly identify the general direction of the shot. However, right as they start to run behind their vehicles, smoke begins appearing from the rear of the military convoy. The BTR-80 that brought up the rear turns the turret around to fire at the smoke with the autocannon, only to impact nothing for a few seconds before the vehicle suddenly, against all laws of physics, flips over, its wheels spinning helplessly in the air.
"Running will not help you. Surrender now!" Indigo's magically enhanced voice sounds to be originating from every direction at once, as if she is shouting from all around the trapped convoy.
The designator lights up the target, feeding Sylla a ghostly image through the otherwise concealing smoke. Sylla works the bolt and slowly pans his rifle over to the figure cowering behind the engine block of a truck, his head clearly visible in the LED overlay which now displays a thermal image of any designated target.
He misses, but it doesn't matter. The major panicked at the sniper fire and ran for a more solid source of protection, but as soon as he broke cover the roar of a machine gun sounded from within the smoke, and Sylla gulps as he sees the man's body parts blow off his torso on the thermal imaging, a result of a high caliber gun being fired at under one hundred meters.
If he was one of the soldiers down there, Sylla would have likely passed out at the sight.
"Enemy neutralized. Target any runners."
Strangely, none of the civilian trucks are moving. Perhaps Indigo slashed their tires in the confusion, or maybe they are simply too scared to move. One of the mercenaries at a distance from the major decided to run, and Ahmed quickly lases him, followed by two shots. The first one missed, provoking a smirk from Sylla's spotter, which causes him to grit his teeth and adjust the lead. The second shot hits the man in the torso, causing him to flop forward like a fish.
The mechanical frame of mind that took over during his overwatch back at the village sets in. The shooting becomes a rhythm, each shot coinciding with an exhalation. He was back at the academy, shooting targets that popped out from the ground. The targets are of better quality this time, as they hide behind cover and fire in his general direction, but they are just targets, no more than bullet catchers. The fact that they are lit up by the designator only reinforces the ease.
He misses often, of course, given his unfamiliarity with the weapon system. But every other shot is a hit, and the hits are kill shots.
Only when the gunfire dies down does Sylla put the butt of the gun away from his sore shoulder. Ahmed has set down the designator and is busying himself with unwrapping another pack of gum.
"Nine kills. Not bad." The Iraqi reports, "You also flushed out a couple of them from cover so Kakumei can hit them."
Sylla lays down the gun and leans back, "I...I think I've shot more people today then I did in my entire previous career."
"That's what being in a troop that doesn't fuss about with parades and ceremony gets ya. Come on," he says as he packs up the designator, "Let's get down there."
As it turns out, only a few of the enemy combatants decided to surrender, though by the time they got down there the only distinction between the prisoners and the dead are the fact that the prisoners don't have holes in them, as Indigo had injected quite a bit of sedatives into them. The truck drivers for the arms dealer are being forced at gunpoint by the female she calls Kakumei to go back into their trucks while Indigo paces up and down the line of vehicles, opening up the trailers and checking through them. Apparently most of them are filled with ammo boxes and small arms, but the last three in the series she opens up with a whistle.
"LAV-25s," she says as she runs her eyes over the hardware stored in the trailer, "New ones too. These should fill in some of the gaps in our vehicle fleet nicely. Let's see, three here...twenty more should do for now..."
"Aye, I just need place the order..." she strolls over to the corpse of the Western arms dealer and digs through his pockets, fishing out the man's satellite phone and wallet, "Let's see here...ah, how nice of him to label the contacts like so. Would be a security issue."
Indigo then proceeds to stab the body with one of her daggers, drawing a copious amount of blood which she laps up off the blade like a cat would a dish of milk. She coughs and mutters a few times, then proceed to use the phone. To Sylla's surprise, when she opens her mouth to speak, it is in a deep male tone, and in language that Sylla vaguely recognizes as French.
At this point, what she is doing is fairly obvious, and Sylla only stayed stunned for a few moments before recovering and quietly questioning Ahmed as to what exactly the extent of Indigo's abilities are. To his surprise, the man simply shrugs.
Sylla thinks about it some more, and decided once again to not think about it too much. That's when his brain, having spent the last hour occupied with observation and concentration, suddenly notices a discrepancy.
"Ahmed, she said the arms dealer was meeting up with janjaweed contacts, but the contacts," he gestures at the uniformed corpses lying around, "They seem to be Sudanese army."
"And you would be correct, Director Sylla." Indigo loudly answers in English as she puts down the phone, "We have just attacked a government convoy receiving arms from an US dealer. The prisoners would be transported to another base in Somalia, the drivers, after they drop off the shipment to our camp, would be bribed to keep quiet and do the same with any subsequent shipments. From now on, they'll be Clear Sky agents."
The lieutenant blinks, "We just raided a government convoy."
"Indeed. But once all the evidence is disposed of and any innocent persons dealt with, we didn't raid this convoy, the local rebel group did."
For some reason, Kakumei lets out a single "Ha!" at that comment.
"The later shipments will be delivered to them normally...on paper. Soon we should have enough to replace at least some of the older BTRs that are beginning to break down. Also according to the manifest there should be roughly 50,000 rounds of 7.62x39 ammunition carried in the other trucks, so we can delay the construction of the production facilities for a while in favor of the development of the well and electrical systems..."
"Don't you think attacking a government convoy is...going a little too far?" Sylla suddenly interrupts, "We are here to protect the people, not to overthrow the government."
"Yes we are."
"Yes we are." Indigo calmly repeats, "It is awfully difficult to produce prosperity when there are...forces acting against you. Governments, bandits, rebel groups, all fighting for money or ideology, none of whom are even remotely interested in the welfare of their people. Such forces need to be removed or neutered so they cannot interfere with our operations."
"And...and where exactly where will you draw the line?" Asks Sylla, dazed at the sheer audacity of her reply. Not because it was ridiculous, but because it is frightfully possible. Companies with lesser capabilities have succeeded in toppling governments and taking countries under their control, and if Ahmed is not exaggerating, Clear Sky can roll right over the global South.
"The line? Ohohoho." Indigo laughs, "Dear Director, I apologize for having not the time to instruct you on our company's culture yet. This is our motto, repeat after me."
She pumps her right hand up in the air, prompting Sylla to follow suit.
"The horizon is the line, the sky is the limit."
"The horizon is the line, the sky is the limit." Sylla repeats.
Once again, the scope of his duty has changed dramatically. He secretly wonders if they also seek to conquer the moon at this point.
"More sake, Mr. Tsuki?"
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to refuse that. Damn observers could be anywhere."
"Worry not, we are the only Lunarians here, as I have not detected any more with my instruments, and do you doubt my instruments?"
"Of course not Dr. Yagokoro, but I would like to remain sober. In any case, I've found a way, but you will need more people than a scientist, a warrior who's gone too far in life, some fallen nobility and a disgruntled deserter to take them on."
"Just say how many, Mr. Tsuki. We will have all of the men and ships we need. There are many others who share our interests, and would gladly cooperate to help you fulfill the Emperor's last will. Logistics is not a problem, but your method may be."
"Perhaps it is, for starters, it concerns the princess's ancestor, a certain Chang'e...."